Such is Life

05/25/2011 12:15 pm ET
  • Leslie Griffith Journalist in newspaper, radio and television for 25 years

Writing the balls to the wall Blog on Dan Rather was my first. It's true, I was a virgin blogger! My parents must be proud of my prolonged chastity and every teenager in America must consider me an imbecile. Such is life.

Getting pissed leads to pontification, depression has a lot of energy as well. The resulting geyser of emotion was labeled a blog, and I'm now a convert since I got more mail from one blog in one day than in 25 years of reporting for the corporate media. Famous people wrote me. I will not drop names, but suffice it to say they too believe Dan Rather deserves his chance to explain his latest brawl with the Bushes who apparently use the big stick and the big lie, and they do take prisoners. But, according to Jimmy Carter don't treat them too well.

Motivated by an understanding of the stink of corporate cronyism and corporate media dirty tricks, I read so many op-ed pieces about Dan Rather I was stunned by how quickly and judgmentally Americans now discard their heroes. Kurt Vonnegut wrote about the human traumas that distort emotions and can make us all feel disengaged, and dehumanized. When people are made to feel helpless, they lash out--sometimes at the wrong source.

9/11 traumatized us, and now as if written from a manual for dictators and bullies, we divide instead of unite and the bad guys never have to worry about a powerful and unified movement. Buckshot hatred scattered and unfocused. In Dan Rather's case, he risked his life more times than I can count in war zones from Vietnam to Afghanistan to help us gain knowledge that can only be gathered by reporters on the ground at the scene. How many Anchors do that today?

As for me, I took some hits from bloggers who said I was guilty for not leaving the corporate media sooner. What did the angry voices think I was doing since President Bush decided to illegally invade Iraq? If I wasn't being a pain in the ass at work fighting for discussion and analysis, I was directly questioning why, for instance, we dropped the Israeli Hezbollah war story---which was only 30 seconds long anyway -- for a story on a new Wal-Mart coming to the Bay Area.

The media managers changed after the war. Many came from sales. And most were middle-- aged white men who played golf together and made sure Sunday was spent at church. Have you noticed the more out of control people feel, the more churches are built? A big mouthed girl who loved Linda Ellerbee, Molly Ivans, Ann Richards, and Barbara Jordan is not exactly their dream date.

Here's just one story illustration that made me begin to believe I may have been up against the same type situations locally, as Dan Rather was nationally.

I remember coming into an editorial meeting with pictures of a car bombing in Baghdad in 2004 on a day the afternoon white house press release said, "All was quiet in Baghdad that day." I had received an e-mail an hour earlier from a friend fighting in Iraq who took pictures of a car bombing proving the white house press release to be bird cage liner. There were bodies on the road, blood was everywhere and a person clearly burned alive inside the car. Either the Bush administrator hadn't gotten word yet, or journalists were given lies to tell the public.

No one had actually told me I wasn't a journalist anymore, so naturally I thought this was a story. I walked into the meeting put my computer down, clicked on the picture and asked every producer, editor, and reporter to come and look. Before 9/11 and the Great Bait and Switch, State-of-the-Union speech of 2003, journalists in the room would have fought over who would do the story. They would have run out the door looking for those who could explain the contradiction. Instead, I found myself smack dab in the red zone.

"We can run these pictures, show the white house press release and compare what a soldier says with the misinformation the white house is putting out," I said. A newsroom and editorial meeting are never quiet, but at that moment there was silence. Then an interrogation began. "Where did you get those?" A recently hired news manager asked angrily. "From my friend in Iraq." "How do you know it's today?" Someone barked across the room with sarcasm? "Well the date, see it's in the right hand corner of the video showing it was taken just hours ago Iraqi time." I pointed like a third grader to the numbers on the top of the screen. I felt as vulnerable as a soldier in a humvee without bullet proof glass.

I waited. Then in an "Alice in Wonderland" kind of way, the conversation moved on without mentioning the e-mail and the car bombing. I vaguely heard someone suggesting a story on a 100 year old woman's birthday party! Now that's journalism. I interrupted with a smart ass remark. "So, I suppose we need to change our promos. Instead of In-depth news all the time, how about See, no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil, as our new promos." A friend shot me a look. I shut up. I trusted him to know I had gone too far. I was trying to land in a hotspot in a new 119 million dollar military aircraft, the V - 22 Osprey. My ass was grass.


Dan Rather